La Jolla’s Dennis Wills is the literary type


Dennis Wills grew up in Los Angeles. He attended the California Military Academy and Lutheran High School, Los Angeles, where he was on the CIF Small Schools State Champion Football Team in 1963.

He went on to El Camino College for two years before serving in the U.S. Air Force from l967-71.

He also studied intensive Russian at Syracuse University and was stationed in Germany with U.S. Air Force Intelligence from 1969-71.

He studied philosophy and classical Greek at Cal State Dominguez Hills and UCLA and was a Rhodes scholarship candidate.

He did tutorials in English philosophy and philosophy of religion at Oxford University in 1973-74, and also studied at the Institute of East European Studies, University of Fribourg, Switzerland, and the Russian Institute at Columbia University.

He served on the staff of Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski at the Research Institute on International Change, Columbia University in l976-77, and then lived in Washington, D.C., from 1977-79.

Later that year, he opened D.G.Wills Books La Jolla Boulevard before moving to the location on Girard Avenue. He founded the La Jolla Cultural Society. Wills has hosted a long list of notables at the shop, including Nobel Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners. Among them were Francis Crick, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Maureen Dowd, Oliver Stone, Freeman Dyson, Francoise Gilot, Edward Albee, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

What brought you to La Jolla?

I came here to open D.G.Wills Books near UCSD.

What makes La Jolla special to you?

The confluence of such brilliant scientists as the late Francis Crick of The Salk Institute, Gerald Edelman of the Neurosciences Institute and neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran of UCSD, who have gathered here from throughout the world.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in La Jolla?

I would ask everyone to take a few breaths and slow down a bit.

Who or what inspires you?

James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon,” and the film directed by Frank Capra; W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge,” and the film directed by Edmund Goulding; the music of Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ralph Vaughn Williams, and Aaron Copland; the films of Frank Capra and John Ford.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

Sir Isaiah Berlin, Mohandas Gandhi, Margaret Fuller, Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, W. Somerset Maugham.

What are you currently reading?

Constantly the New York Review of Books and The New York Times Book Review.

What is your most prized possession?

The copy of W. Somerset Maugham’s espionage vignettes, “Ashenden,” depicting his British intelligence activities in World War I, inscribed to Raymond Chandler; in the past, Aldous Huxley’s copy of “Lost Horizon,” inscribed to me from Frank Capra.

What do you do for fun?

Drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and red wine periodically at the bookstore with my pals, including retired homicide detectives Tom Basinski and Bob Conrad, and San Diego’s preeminent baseball historian Bill Swank; watch iconic films from the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s at the end of the day; drive my 1930 Model “A” Ford phaeton periodically; follow the Los Angeles Rams, although some would argue that they now reside in St. Louis.

Please describe your greatest accomplishment.

An hour of conversation with philosopher/historian Sir Isaiah Berlin in his office at Wolfson College, Oxford; and an hour of conversation with director Frank Capra at his home in La Quinta.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

To marvel humbly at the mysteries of existence.